Showing posts with label Caterina Sforza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Caterina Sforza. Show all posts

14 April 2017

Girolamo Riario - papal military leader

Assassinated after failed attempt to unseat Medici family

Girolamo Riario
Girolamo Riario
Girolamo Riario, the 15th century governor of Imola and Forlì who was part of a major plot to displace the powerful Medici family as rulers of Florence, was assassinated on this day in 1488.

Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV who had appointed him Captain General of the Church, was unpopular with his subjects as a result of imposing high taxes, but his murder was thought to be an attempt by the noble Orsi family of Forlì to seize control of the city.

Two members of the family, Checco and Ludovico, led a group of assassins armed with swords into government palace, where Riario was set upon.  Despite the presence of guards, Riario was stabbed and slashed repeatedly.  Eventually, his dead body was left in a local piazza, surrounded by a crowd celebrating his demise, as the Orsi brothers and their gang looted the palace.

A decade earlier, Riario, who had been appointed Lord of Imola by Sixtus IV, joined with Francesco Salviati, whose family were the Papal bankers in Florence, and members of the Pazzi family in a plot to assassinate the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and his brother, Giuliano.

he Rocca di Ravaldino, a stronghold of Riario's power
The Rocca di Ravaldino, a stronghold of Riario's power
The Pazzi were another important family in Florence and like many other families were resentful of Lorenzo’s despotic rule. Although Florence flourished, and his patronage of the arts was so important to the Renaissance, he maintained his power largely through bribery, threats and strategic marriages.

Riario’s involvement was essentially on behalf of his uncle, Sixtus IV, who saw Lorenzo – also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent – as a threat to the Papal States.

It was Lorenzo’s attempt to buy Imola – a small town but important as a stronghold on the border between the Tuscan empire and the Papal States – from its owners, the Sforza family of Milan, that led to Riario being installed as governer.  Lorenzo had offered the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a sizeable sum for but Sixtus IV gazumped him, offering a deal by which Caterina Sforza, the Duke’s illegitimate daughter, would marry Riario, thus forming a strategic alliance.  The Pazzi family had financed the purchase.

The assignation attempt took place in Florence’s Duomo on April 26, 1478, during High Mass.  Giuliano was killed but Lorenzo escaped with only minor injuries. A simultaneous attempt to seize key government buildings in Florence was foiled and most of the key figures in the plot were captured and killed.  Riario, who would have been placed in charge of a new government in Florence had the plot succeeded, managed to get away. Salviati was not so lucky and was hung within an hour of his capture.

Pope Sixtus IV
Pope Sixtus IV
Nonetheless, Riario continued to climb the ladders of power. In 1480, the pope made him Count of Forlì. He built the fortress of Rocca di Ravaldino, one of the strategically most important strongholds of the Romagna, and at the same time rebuilt much of Imola.

While his uncle remained pope, Riario and Caterina lived for the most part in Rome. As commander of the papal army, Riario wielded much power, although his wife had an increasingly strong influence over what he did. When Sixtus IV died, it was Caterina who ordered his troops to seize Castel Sant' Angelo to put pressure on the cardinals to elect a candidate who would work in accordance with the Riario interests. After 10 days of chaos in Rome, she had to be persuaded by Riario to withdraw in order for the conclave to begin.

However, the cardinals did not elect a new pope sympathetic to the Riarios, quite the contrary, going for Giovanni Battista Cybo, an old opponent, who became Pope Innocent VIII. He recognised Girolamo as Lord of Imola and Forlì and Captain-General of the papal forces but effectively allowed him no power.  It was his illegitimate son, Franceschetto, whom the Orsi family wanted to replace him.

After Girolamo’s death, Caterina was locked up, along with her children, but tricked her way out, promising to persuade the castellan, Tommaso Feo, to give up his defence of the Rocca di Ravaldino, which the Orsis had been unable to storm.

The Orsis had her children as hostages but Caterina reneged on their deal nonetheless.  From within the Rocca, she threatened dire consequences for the Orsi attackers if they dared touch the children and they fled, after which Girolamo’s son, Ottaviano, was made Lord of Forli with Caterina as his regent.

Imola's Rocca Sforzesca
Imola's Rocca Sforzesca

Travel tip:

The city of Imola of today is part of the large metropolitan area of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region. The castle, the Rocca Sforzesca, is well preserved, and is nowadays the home of an internationally respected piano academy and the Cinema d’Este, which shows films in July and August. The city is best known today for its motor racing circuit, which used to host the Grand Prix of San Marino on behalf of the nearby independent republic.

The Abbey of San Mercuriale in Forlì
The Abbey of San Mercuriale in Forlì

Travel tip:

With a population of almost 120,000, Forlì is a prosperous agricultural and industrial city with a beautiful central square, Piazza Saffi, which is named after Aurelio Saffi, a radical republican who was a prominent figure in the Risorgimento. Its major attractions include the Abbey of San Mercuriale and the Rocca di Ravaldino, the strategic fortress built by Girolamo Riario and sometimes known as the Rocca di Caterina Sforza.

More reading:

How Caterina's son, Giovanni, became the last of the great condottieri

Cosimo - the Florentine banker who founded the Medici dynasty

Priest Girolamo Savonarola's war on Renaissance 'excesses'

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of Lamberto dalla Costa, Italy's first Olympic bobsleigh champion

(Picture credits: Rocca di Ravaldino by AC2BR3L; Rocca Sforzesca by Ruben alexander; Abbey of San Mercuriale by Perkele; all via Wikimedia Commons)


5 April 2017

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere - condottiero

Medici soldier who fathered Cosimo I de' Medici

Giovanni dalle Bande Nere: a portrait by an unknown artist
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere: a portrait by an
unknown artist
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, the military leader regarded as the last of the great Italian condottieri, was born on this day in 1498 in Forlì, in what is now the Emilia-Romagna region.

The condottieri were professional soldiers, mercenaries who hired themselves out to lead the armies of the Italian city-states and the Papacy in the frequent wars that ensued from the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance.

Giovanni spent the greater part of his military career in the service of Pope Leo X, the Medici pope. Indeed, he was a Medici himself, albeit from a then secondary branch of the family. Baptised Ludovico, he was the son of Giovanni de’ Medici, also known as Il Popolano and a great-nephew of Cosimo the Elder, the founder of the dynasty.

It was his mother, Caterina Sforza, the powerful daughter of the Duke of Milan, who renamed him Giovanni in memory of his father, her fourth husband, who died when the boy was just five months old. He became Giovanni dalle Bande Nere much later, in 1521, when he added black stripes to his military insignia in a show of mourning for Pope Leo X.

His upbringing brought out the worst aspects of his character, which was deeply influenced by his mother’s fiery nature. The family moved to Florence after his father’s death and after Caterina herself passed away in 1509, his care was placed in the hands of Iacopo Salviati and Lucrezia de’ Medici, the daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Giovanni's wife, Maria Salviati, a portrait by  Jacopo Pontormo, in the Uffizi Gallery
Giovanni's wife, Maria Salviati: a portrait by
Jacopo Pontormo, in the Uffizi Gallery
Giovanni was no easy child to look after. At the age of 12, a rebellious and bored schoolboy, he murdered another boy of the same age and for a while was banished from the city.

It was Salviati who found him a way to channel his aggression to a profitable purpose, using his influence after the Medicis returned to power in 1512 following an 18-year exile to get him work as commander of a cavalry company of mercenaries fighting for Leo X during the Battle of Urbino (1516-17).

In 1517, Giovanni married Maria, Salviati's daughter. Their son Cosimo, born on June 15, would go on to be Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, under whose rule Florence enjoyed considerable prosperity and military power.

Giovanni continued to serve Leo X and in 1521 took part in the war to oust the French from the Duchy of Milan, gaining praise for his skirmishing tactics in securing a victory for the combined forces of Leo X and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V at Vaprio d’Adda.

His loyalties could be bought, however. Following the death of Leo X, and chronically in debt, he agreed to fight for the French, only to be on the losing side at the Battle of Bicocca in 1522.

Subsequently he fought for the Sforza family and then for another Medici pope, Clement VII, who agreed to pay off all his debts.

Bronzino's portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici
Bronzino's portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici
It was while he was in the service of Clement VII, who was part of the League of Cognac, which united France, the Duchy of Milan, Venice, Florence and the pope against Charles V, that Giovanni died.

During a battle in November 1526 to hold back the advance of Imperial forces into Lombardy, he was struck in the right leg by a cannon ball. His leg was amputated, but he died, probably of gangrene, four days later.

Buried initially in Mantua, his body was eventually returned to Florence in 1685 to be entombed in the Chapel of the Princes in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. It was exhumed in 2012 to preserve the remains, which had been submerged during the Florence floods of 1966.

Soon after his death, mobile cannons became much more common on the battlefield and the armoured cavalry companies that the condottieri tended to lead became almost obsolete very quickly, hence Dalle Bande Nere tends to be called the last of the condottieri.

Bandinelli's statue of Giovanne dalle Bande Nere dominates Piazza San Lorenzo
Bandinelli's statue of Giovanne dalle
Bande Nere dominates Piazza San Lorenzo
Travel tip:

Piazza San Lorenzo in Florence is notable for the statue of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo I in honour of his father and created by the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli, who placed Giovanni not on a horse but on a chair, holding what has been suggested is a broken lance. The statue was to have rested on a pedestal inside the Basilica of San Lorenzo but Cosimo I changed his mind and had the statue installed in the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Sala dell'Udienza.  However, the enormous marble pedestal on which Bandinelli wanted it to rest, decorated with a relief meant to depict the condottieri’s clemency towards his prisoners, proved too big and Cosimo changed his plans again, placing it in Piazza San Lorenzo. In another statue, under the portico of the Uffizi Gallery, Giovanni is standing and holding a sword.

Piazza Saffi is the main square in the centre of Forlì
Piazza Saffi is the main square in the centre of Forlì

Travel tip:

Forlì, a city of almost 120,000 inhabitants in the wealthy Emilia-Romagna region, has been the site of a settlement since the Romans were there in around 188BC.  Forlì today has several buildings of architectural, artistic and historical significance. At the heart of the city is Piazza Aurelio Saffi, named after the politician Aurelio Saffi, an important figure in the pro-republican faction during the Risorgimento. The Piazza Saffi also includes the 12th century Abbey of San Mercuriale.

More reading: